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What Can the Pelicans Expect from E.J. Liddell?

The former Ohio State standout is looking to come in and compete for minutes and respect.

By all accounts, the New Orleans Pelicans hit a home run in this year's NBA draft. Not only did they nail their target in the first-round selection of Dyson Daniels, but they also were able to select a guy in E.J. Liddell who most didn't think would be available at pick No. 41. 

Given the shock most had with his second-round availability, it becomes fascinating how he would fit the Pelicans' roster. 

To give a little insight on the player and person in E.J. Liddell, I had the privilege to speak with Patrick Murphy of 247Sports. Murphy has been covering Ohio State basketball and football for 247Sports since 2015. Here's how our conversation went regarding Liddell.

Many fans and even the front office were surprised to see Liddell drop to pick No. 41 in the draft. Were you surprised by this as well?

"I was. Many of the mock drafts I had seen, and from people I respect in the industry, had Liddell as a late first-round pick, though some projected him as an early second-round guy. I said on a local radio show the day of the draft that it wouldn't entirely surprise me if he fell to the early second round, although people I talked to within the Ohio State program felt confident he would be in the first round. I certainly didn't expect him to be around 11 picks into the second round.

I think the biggest thing that went against EJ is he doesn't have a clear role in the NBA and he's not a young player. At Ohio State, he was a post player that learned to move to the outside, but at 6-foot-6/6-foot-7, he's not going to be able to play in the post as often as he was in college. I have to imagine teams looked at him and didn't know exactly where they would play him, and therefore decided to select a younger player who maybe has a bit more risk but they can mold a bit more."

E.J. Liddell

What are some of Liddell's biggest strengths on the basketball court?

"He's a player who has worked on his game so he could do a little bit of everything in the college game. When the Buckeyes needed a basket each of the last two years, he was more often than not the guy who had the ball. He doesn't have guard skills, so he won't take the ball at the three-point arc and go to work, but he found a way to get to his spots and then get the ball and score.

He also has become a very good defender. Liddell blocks were commonplace last season in Columbus, as he averaged 2.6 per game, recording eight in a game against Xavier and more than five on multiple occasions. He can also defend on the perimeter and is good enough to match up with guards when needed, although this will be a bigger challenge at the NBA level.

Any area of his game he needed to work on, he did and did so with vigor. I don't expect that to change now that he's been drafted."

What, if any, are areas of improvement as he transitions to the next level?

"Liddell could certainly continue to develop as a ball-handler. He's not going to get any bigger, so he can't turn himself into a true post player. He will need to be able to carve out a role with the Pelicans at forward -- a position that already has plenty of talent, as you know -- and that means being able to handle the ball. He did that more last season at Ohio State but it led to a major jump in turnovers. This will be something he has already identified in his game as an area he can improve."

E.J. Liddell

Are there any player comparisons to any current NBA players you see in Liddell?

"Speaking shortly before the draft on local radio, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann was asked this question and said Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams. I think this is an apt comparison. I've also seen names such as the Utah Jazz's Eric Paschall, as well as NBA veteran Paul Millsap. Basically, any under-sized forward that has figured out a way to be successful."

What kind of impact can he make immediately on this team?

"That's a good question. I'm interested to see where the Pelicans staff thinks Liddell fits, especially given my answer to the first question. I will be watching this closely in the Summer League."

In my mind, Liddell is too good to be a G-League player but has to show that he can play a role at the NBA level. Could he be a guy that comes off the bench for Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram perhaps? That's definitely possible. I think Liddell will do whatever the Pelicans ask of him and it would surprise me if his role increases as his rookie year progress. He didn't start a game at Ohio State as a freshman but had some big games off the bench for the Buckeyes toward the end of that season. I could see something similar in New Orleans."

Any good Liddell stories or fun facts about him off the court?

"Liddell is a lot of fun and I think anyone who covered/worked with him over the last three years at Ohio State will tell you that. He's genuinely a great dude to be around and his teammates always loved him.

He's also a very big Kobe Bryant fan, so much so that he thinks "Kobe!" to himself when he releases a jumper. He was pretty devastated after Bryant died in the helicopter crash."

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